Why are Japanese so Skinny?

The crazy thing about working in a Japanese office is that, while knowing absolutely nothing substantial about your co-workers, you can still observe their most intimate habits. But maybe that’s any office, actually. I mean, when I worked in the U.S., there were a lot of folks I didn’t really know either. Although it seems like avoiding personal disclosure is one of those Japanese “things.” Eh, probably just my imagination.

Among the things I still don’t know in my Japanese office are anybody’s actual name, so I like to refer to my coworkers as Skeletor, Skeletor Jr., Ms. WhoAreYouAgain, and The Butt. The first three are Japanese, while The Butt, so-named because of her seated resemblance to an isosceles triangle, is, predictably, American. Continue reading “Why are Japanese so Skinny?”

Why Your Japanese Sucks

It’s not Romaji That’s Evil—-It’s Hiragana

I have a new co-worker, who just so happens to be white. It’s very exciting, finally speaking with a real foreigner. I really gotta practice the English more. I think she’s from some place like Kansas, probably because she reminds me of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, albeit minus the little dog and red shoes. Maybe it’s the pigtails, and the fact that her aunt is named Em. Or is that M? Whatever. On Thursday, apropos of nothing, she turned to me and announced,

“I’m heading over to Japanese class tonight.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s great.” Foreigners are always heading over to Japanese class. “How’s that going anyway?”

“Wonderful,” she replied, “we’re learning hiragana.” Continue reading “Why Your Japanese Sucks”

Crime in Japan

You never know what the day will bring—that’s the exciting thing about waking up. So this morning, just as I was heading out for a fresh can of coffee at the corner 7-Eleven, I noticed somebody’d pasted a scary Japanese note to the windshield of my car.

“Contract parking place!!” it said in large, crimson kanji, written with what appeared to be a stubbly red crayon. “Never park here!!” Heh, and they say Japanese people are subtle. Sure they are, until you do something wrong. Anyway, I had to admit I felt a bit of pride in that I could read the terrible note, and also that I finally owned a car in Japan. Yet all things considered, somehow I felt bad. Emotions sure are confusing. I really wished it was night, so I could buy beer, which solves that problem. Continue reading “Crime in Japan”

One Japanese Book You Must Read

You should think twice about taking any advice Ken Seeroi’s got to give. I mean, we’re talking a guy who ditched a sensible life in a first-world country for a freezing, tiny apartment, sleeping on the floor, and eating rice with sticks. So, really? Well, it’s not so bad once I move the shochu boxes and cockroaches out of the way. Just trying to put things into perspective, you know.

How to Take a Bath in Japan

There’s a lot of information on how to do things “right” in Japan. How to take off your shoes, bow, give small gifts, blow your nose, take a bath. It’s like a country that comes with its own instruction manual. Continue reading “One Japanese Book You Must Read”

How to Learn Kanji, in 10 Steps

I don’t go to a lot of cocktail parties. But somehow when I do, I always meet people studying Japanese. Maybe it’s just me. Or more precisely, people who’ll eventually stop studying, only they don’t know it yet. Here’s how the conversation goes:

“Ken! I’m studying Japanese! I’m stoked! And I’m completely serious about improving. Just tell me what to do—anything—and I’ll do it.

“Three words,” I reply. “Paint my house. Nah, just kidding. You should learn the kanji.

“Ah, you know,” they begin to trail off, “I just want to speak Japanese, not read it. Continue reading “How to Learn Kanji, in 10 Steps”